Madrid - Alberto Contador took a huge step to making a fairytale return to cycling after a two year doping ban when he took the overall lead of the Spanish Vuelta on Wednesday after winning the 17th stage here.
The 29-year-old Spaniard crossed the finish line of the 187km ace from Santander to Fuente De, six seconds ahead of fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde of Movistar. Colombian Sergio Henao of Sky finished third.
"I am not in my best moment but I had a really strong desire to win. Second place is fine but I was always going to try to win," the Saxo Bank rider told public television TVE at the end of the race.
"I think we took a huge step forward. I want to dedicate this victory to everyone who has supported me during all this time, my family, my wife, my friends and all the fans," he added, seeming to choke back tears.
Contador had started the mountainous stage through northern Spain 28 seconds behind compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez in the overall standings for the tour.
But the strong performance catapulted him into first place in the Vuelta's overall standings, one minute and 52 seconds ahead of Valverde.
Rodriguez's hopes of claiming his first major Tour win at the age of 33 look like they are over as he slumped to third place overall, two minutes and 28 seconds behind Contador.
The Spaniard had entertained great hopes of making up for his heartbreak in this year's Tour of Italy when he led going into the final stage only to finish second overall after Canadian Ryder Hesjedal overhauled his advantage in the time-trial.
Contador has kept his silence for months since the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport handed down a two-year ban to the two-time Tour de France winner on February 6.
Contador has always insisted that the trace of banned substance clenbuterol detected in his urine at the 2010 Tour de France came from a contaminated steak he ate on the eve of the test.
Contador - who was stripped of the third Tour de France win in 2010 along with his Tour of Italy title of 2011 - is hoping this tour can help him turn a new page.
Spanish Vuelta results following Wednesday's 17th stage, a 187.3km ride from Santander to Fuente De:
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) 4hr 29min 20sec
2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) at 0:06sec
3. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 0:06.
4. Gorka Verdugo (ESP/EUS) 0:06.
5. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA/ALM) 0:19.
6. Jan Bakelants (BEL/RSH) 0:55.
7. Benat Intxausti (ESP/MOV) 1min 13sec
8. Alexandre Geniez (FRA/ARG) 1:40.
9. Paolo Tiralongo (ITA/AST) 2:13.
10. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 2:38.
11. Jesus Hernandez (ESP/SAX) 2:38.
12. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 2:38.
13. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/FDJ) 3:03.
14. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) 3:18.
15. Laurens ten Dam (NED/RAB) 4:05.
16. Mikel Landa (ESP/EUS) 4:17.
17. Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL/LAM) 4:48.
18. Andrew Talansky (USA/GRM) 4:48.
19. Gianni Meersman (BEL/LTB) 4:48.
20. Robert Gesink (NED/RAB) 4:48.
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) 68hr 07min 54sec
2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) at 1min 52sec
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 2:28.
4. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 9:40.
5. Daniel Moreno (ESP/KAT) 11:36.
6. Robert Gesink (NED/RAB) 12:06.
7. Laurens ten Dam (NED/RAB) 12:55.
8. Andrew Talansky (USA/GRM) 13:06.
9. Igor Anton (ESP/EUS) 13:49.
10. Benat Intxausti (ESP/MOV) 14:10.
11. Gorka Verdugo (ESP/EUS) 15:54.
12. Nicolas Roche (IRL/ALM) 16:22.
13. Tomasz Marczynski (POL/VAC) 17:11.
14. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 18:07.
15. Maxime Monfort (BEL/RSH) 18:12.
16. Bart De Clercq (BEL/LTB) 18:18.
17. Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL/LAM) 19:13.
18. Winner Anacona (COL/LAM) 20:08.
19. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA/ALM) 20:24.
20. Maxime Bouet (FRA/ALM) 28:13.